Who doesn't love a comeback? Who can resist a reunion replete with one-liners? These are just some of the charms of Neil Simon's comedy "The Sunshine Boys," playing at The Lake Dillon Theatre Company through March 31.
It's the tale of Al Lewis and Willie Clark, two aging comedians who performed in vaudeville for more than 40 years. But Lewis and Clark, as they were known, broke up when Clark retired, and Lewis has held a grudge against his former co-star ever since.
Will the men overcome their differences and accept CBS's invitation to reunite for a TV special on the golden age of comedy?
"That's the big question at the heart of what's truly a buddy story that goes from bad to worse to better," said Christopher Alleman, producing artistic director of the Lake Dillon Theatre Company. "It's about hanging on to grudges and growing old, but it's also about a friendship so strong that it can, with work, withstand all of that. Plus, it's just damn funny."
Wendy Moore, who is no stranger to theater in Summit County ("Moon Over Buffalo," "Cabaret"), directs this adaptation. Moore is particularly attracted to projects in which she can work with her husband of more than 40 years, which makes this production of "The Sunshine Boys" a labor of love and laughs.
Willie Clark is played by Bob Moore, who co-starred with wife, Wendy, in the Backstage Theatre's recent production of "On Golden Pond." Wendy Moore admits to loving Simon's comedies, which she describes as "very human" and conducive to any stage because Simon "writes it to do it."
Wendy Moore is referring to Simon's sense of humor, which is always accessible and heartfelt. There's a reason, after all, that Simon is the only living playwright to have a theater named after him on Broadway and why he has more Tony and Oscar nominations than any other writer.
In the 1960s, Simon created roommates Felix Ungar and Oscar Madison and, in the '70s, another pair no less mismatched in Lewis and Clark. Early in the play, Lewis admits that "no matter how he feels about me, I don't hate him. I come close but not all the way!" Clark, meanwhile, insists that Lewis deliberately spits on him on stage.
Ever since "The Sunshine Boys" debuted on Broadway in 1972, with Sam Leveneas and Jack Albertson in the original roles, virtually every comic legend has taken a crack at the roles of Lewis and Clark. In 1975, George Burns played Lewis (for which he won an Academy Award) and Walter Matthau played Clark, and in 1997, Woody Allen and Peter Falk teamed up for a TV version.
Wendy Moore is sure that her actors are every bit as entertaining as the aforesaid funnymen. In this production, Lewis is played by Jim Hunt, one of the busiest actors in Colorado. At 69, Hunt starred in five productions across the state in 2012 and even worked alongside Nick Nolte at Greeley's Little Theatre of the Rockies nearly 50 years ago.
Actor Andrew Tebo, whom Wendy Moore describes as a "delight," plays Willie's nephew and agent, Ben Silverman, who prods his uncle to return to the spotlight, even if for one last curtain-call.
"What Lewis and Clark truly miss is the limelight," said Wendy Moore, and then, with a chuckle, "and each other only a little."
Boys, it seems, will be boys.